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Compassion For Self – Part 8

With his back to the wall, Brady again made a very good choice...

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Living a compassionate life begins by taking compassionate, loving care of your health and your self. This is the 2nd Compassion enabling each us to achieve The Great Healing – for ourselves and for our planet. This weekly 11-part series excerpts and adapts Chapter 2 of the new book, The Great Healing – Five Compassions That Can Save Our World.

“An exceptionally well and persuasively written clarion call to personal and collective action, The Great Healing – Five Compassions That Can Save Our World is unreservedly and urgently recommended.”
— Midwest Book Review

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. . .

III

Brady and the others look on as Tracy writes out the transition state of an organic chemical reaction on the whiteboard. The whiteboard dominates the wall and her neat writing soon sprawls, taking over its surface. At last, she figures out the mechanism and arrives at the end product of this complex chemical reaction. Then she walks everyone through it. She actually walks, walking everyone through it as her writing spans more than 10 feet. Brady smiles as Tracy explains this chemical reaction, undecipherable to the uninitiated, and it soon makes complete sense to each one of them. She’s the smart one, the “go to” for the answers to the toughest problems. Brady says Tracy knew everything, “We’d always roll our eyes, ‘But of course you got a good grade on that.’”

Actually, these third-year college students are all smart ones. They take most of their classes together because they are all on the same track at North Greenville University and it’s a smaller school than most colleges. Brady is the funny one in this study group, the one cracking jokes. He and Aleena brought everyone together. They’ve been friends since college sophomore year when they met in Anatomy class. Aleena was the first friend Brady ever succeeded in making and she his closest friend.

Tracy sees that everyone now understands this chemical reaction and smiles sweetly, easily.

Brady told me, “In college when we were taking organic chemistry, which is one of the hardest classes I’ve ever had to take, we’d get together on test nights and carpool over to nearby Furman University. We’d go there because they had a section of their library which stayed open all the time, 24-7, and rooms like this one with long whiteboards.”

These are all, each one of them, Brady’s friends — something new for him, something different. They enjoy one another and are comfortable together.

Haley is the serious one with a sometime sense of humor. Josh has seemingly no work ethic and never appears to be making an effort. This evening like most, he’ll spend time playing on his phone, the lazy-seeming guy in the corner whom they all enjoy being with but makes them so jealous because he’s a natural — despite his aloof appearance, Josh is taking it all in and he always gets really good grades. Then there’s Caleb — quiet, supremely competent, easy going, amusing. And Bailey, who masks any sense of humor because humor often comes at someone else’s expense. Brady describes her as “the one who would never say anything negative about anybody.”

Each one of them is an exceptional student.

Brady’s period of withdrawal and his academic tumble throughout the spring of his high school senior year carried over into college. His grades in his first semester at North Greenville University were poor. After finishing fall semester, he met with his course advisor, Dr. Nathaniel, about choosing classes for the second semester of his freshman year. She made it clear to him that he would not be accepted into medical school if his poor performance continued. She suggested that Brady consider relinquishing his dream of medical school; that there were other less difficult majors, each leading to an undergraduate degree that can pave the way to an interesting and rewarding career. If he stays on the pre-med track, another semester of grades like these and not only can he forget medical school, but he may no longer remain in good academic standing at North Greenville University…

With his back to the wall, Brady again made a very good choice. Right then and there, sitting across from his advisor, his sense of purpose and his resolve came back alive for him, his passion for learning and for medicine.

That was two years ago. From that meeting on, Brady is back getting straight A’s. His junior year, when the classes became exceedingly difficult like this one, O-Chem, he continued to get all A’s. He was even asked by the faculty to tutor students the following semester in classes he had just passed with flying colors.

These university students, gathered together at two in the morning facing a fully subscribed whiteboard, are close. They have a group Snapchat. They are bonded as friends, ones that also share a higher aspiration: they are teammates, helping one another on a journey with a difficult objective: they are pre-meds aspiring to be accepted into med school to become doctors.

Tonight, most of them will stay the night to cover all the material while others will leave before long to get a few hours of sleep. Their organic-chemistry midterm is tomorrow.

“A lot of people this age would think ‘boyfriend, girlfriend.’ But to me, Friends! To me, this was great because I’ve never had that before.” In this regard, Brady couldn’t be happier. He has developed meaningful friendships with follow students — friends who are inclined to stay in touch once they get into their medical schools or beyond, wherever their careers take them.

Aleena, Tracy, Haley, Josh, Caleb and Bailey enjoy Brady, his intellect, his sense of humor, and the kind person he is. His weight never mattered to them. Brady now weighs 338 pounds. That’s a lot of mass on his 5’9” frame.

. . .

At Wren High School during the spring semester of his senior year, Brady could not lose weight so he stopped trying. He didn’t fully realize even then that most “low calorie” foods and the “diet” soft drinks on supermarket shelves are little better than the original versions: they are loaded with hidden sugars and other highly processed ingredients of little nutritional value. Lacking the fiber density of whole natural fruits, grains and vegetables, they are not filling or satiating. They are designed to create cravings for more. They gave him pleasure, they tasted good, and they were always available — something in Brady’s life that he could control. He still didn’t realize how addictive they were.

That last year of high school he wasn’t attending classes any longer, there would be no senior prom in Brady’s plans, and when he walked the stage on graduation day to receive his diploma, students asked him where he’d been. That summer, Brady moved in with his mother’s sister, whose family lived just around the corner, to get some distance from conflict and old patterns at home. It turned out to be a good decision. “If you have someone in a certain situation who is not doing well and you keep them in that situation then they’re not going to be able to heal,” Brady shared. “I needed somewhere that I was not used to, that I was not comfortable with, to force me to adapt. Before I could try to heal my relationship with my family, I needed to heal myself.” In hindsight, Brady would have been best served taking a “gap” semester before attending university, as his social withdrawal carried over into his first semester at North Greenville.

At university that first year, Brady made a courageous decision. He was taking prescribed medication. He decided he could cure himself, so he went off his meds, taking his bottle of Zoloft pills and flushing them down the toilet. He waited for several days to see what was going to happen as the drug waned in his body and his mind. And he discovered that he was okay, he was fine on his own. Another good decision.

. . .

Brady, content in the company of his friends as he studies for his O-chem midterm, has kept something to himself: the problems with his body are getting worse. His sleep apnea is in full force. His blood sugar level is way too high. To have a little spending money he works part time in a grocery store. He has to stand his entire shift and the strain of his body weight has exacerbated his painful plantar fasciitis. His lower back is often sore; his core strained from his distended body mass.

He came through academically again, though, acing his Organic Chemistry final as well as the other fall semester classes of his junior year of college.

Brady then makes another important decision.

He considers fasting. Doctors confirm the effectiveness of intermittent fasting for weight loss. It slows the progression of, or reverses type 2 diabetes, while reducing risk of heart disease and cancer. It improves immune and cognitive function, and increases longevity.[i] Intermediate fasting is just not eating for 14 to 16 consecutive hours a couple of times a week — basically skipping breakfast. You eat lunch and dinner, no snacks in-between, making sure to finish eating 3 hours before going to bed. Adding a monthly 4-day water-only fast can provide additional benefit.

Brady also researches bariatric surgery, which is essentially forced fasting.  He and his mother go together for the consult.

He has a new SECA examination and his results are not good. His BMI is now 55.1. Obesity is defined as having a BMI of 30 or higher, and extremely obese is 40 or more. Brady has now entered the category of morbidly obese. His waist circumference is measured and if it is greater than 40” it means he is at high risk of heart disease, arteriosclerosis, and type 2 diabetes. And at just 20 years old, Brady’s is 55”. It is clear that not just his heart, but all of the organs in his young body are under tremendous strain. Heart attacks and strokes are becoming increasingly common at younger and younger ages.

In a vertical sleeve gastrectomy — also called the gastric sleeve procedure — a surgeon laparoscopically removes around 85% of your stomach. This is less invasive than the Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass, which, in addition, alters the intestinal path limiting the digestion of the food that does get through. 

Dr. Fung’s experience is that either of these surgeries can be “very successful at reversing type 2 diabetes, proving that type 2 diabetes is a reversible condition… and can reverse type 2 diabetes very quickly. The reason people get better is because it is essentially forced fasting and the body is now forced to burn off its own sugar and fat.” When this happens “your blood glucose goes down and when your blood glucose goes down, you don’t need to take insulin anymore.” For Dr. Fung, “It’s not the total fat in your body that causes diabetes. It’s the fat in your organs that causes that problem.”[ii]

Tinna told me, “I’m torn. I do not want Brady to do the surgery. It’s risky. Things could go wrong. I want him to try and get healthy a different way. But I know he’s miserable. I know that if he stays at the weight he is, he probably will not continue. I don’t think he’ll have the chance to go to med school. I think his weight will completely hold him back in his life. I don’t want him to waste his years.”

Brady is trapped. He can’t exercise in the body he currently has and diet — even if successful — will only reduce his mass slowly. Despite his excellent grades and even with a solid medical school entrance exam score, he foresees that following his med school in-person interviews they might decline him for one of the coveted spaces, privately rationalizing, “Is an obese doctor really setting a good example for his patients?” or “Will his health going forward allow him to endure the physical rigors of internship and medical practice, or to complete a full career arc down the road?”

Brady decides to undergo surgery.

. . .

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Read Part 9 of this 11-part series next week. If you can’t wait, the book The Great Healing – Five Compassions That Can Save Our World is available on Amazon or at thegreathealing.org

“The ambitious book’s five chapters highlight compassionate approaches toward animals, self, the land, community, and democracy. Erickson’s writing displays passion, clarity, and a grasp of every topic he tackles.”

— Kirkus Reviews

“Erickson’s ability to connect climate science, copious data, and public policies with the lived experiences of people and other creatures sets this book apart. His emphasis on humane and caring methods reminds readers that winning hearts and minds is a prerequisite to capturing carbon. An inspired synthesis of environmental, cultural, economic, and political calls to action.”

— Kirkus Reviews

“An exceptionally well and persuasively written clarion call to personal and collective action, The Great Healing – Five Compassions That Can Save Our World is unreservedly and urgently recommended.”
— Midwest Book Review

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[i] Joseph Mercola, D.O., Top 22 Intermittent Fasting Benefits, Fitness.mercola.com, Jan. 18, 2019, https://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2019/01/18/incorporate-intermittent-fasting-daily-routine.aspx

[ii] Jason Fung, M.D., Medical Director and co-founder of the Intensive Dietary Management Program, as stated in iThrive! Rising From the Depths of Diabetes & Obesity, 9 part documentary series, Executive Producers:Jonathan Hunsaker, Jonathan McMahon, Michael Skye, 2017, iThrive Publishing LLC, https://go.ithriveseries.com/

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